Church and disco meet in 'Sister Act' - Albuquerque Journal

Church and disco meet in ‘Sister Act’

The 1992 musical comedy movie “Sister Act,” starring Whoopi Goldberg, was transformed into a Broadway musical in 2011, and is receiving its New Mexico premiere at Albuquerque Little Theater under the direction of Henry Avery.

Set in 1978 during the height of the sexual revolution, which was also the time of the disco craze, “Sister Act” tells the story of a Philadelphia singer, Delores Van Cartier, who witnesses her married mobster ex-boyfriend murder an informant. After going to the police, she is ensconced for her safety in a Catholic church in the disguise of a nun.

Comedy is generated by the incongruous juxtaposition of 1970s secular culture and Catholic Christianity. This is highlighted especially in the second-act reprise of “Fabulous, Baby,” when quite literally the church and the discotheque converge.

As might be expected, Van Cartier livens things up quite a bit among the sisters. In fact, the church is on the verge of closing, but when Delores boosts the energy of the choir, the donations start to pour in, and so the church is “saved.” I put “saved” in quotes knowing that there are some who would consider closing preferable to a salvation dependent on this sort of secular transfusion. In fact, the secular overpowering of the church is given concrete expression when the Mother Superior informs the sisters that they will be performing for His Holiness; before she can say more, one of the nuns blurts out in irrepressible excitement, “Johnny Carson!”

April Lisette plays Van Cartier with equal parts sexy disco diva and astute comic lead, and she is a talented vocalist to boot. Amy Carter, Ashley Lopez and Laura Nuzum give strong supporting performances in the parts of nuns drawn to Delores’ charm and energy. But I was especially impressed by the comic performances of the gangsters, in particular Xavier Visage as T.J. in the number “Lady in the Long Black Dress.” The gangsters hatch a plan to seduce the nuns with their incredible sexual charisma and charm. This is surely one of the comic highlights of the show.

As this is a musical comedy, there must be some hint of a love affair. Jon Gallegos plays “Sweaty Eddie,” a police officer who had a crush on Delores in high school. Naturally, he gets the girl of his dreams before the final curtain. Gallegos is one of Albuquerque’s best musical theater actors, and he does not disappoint here.

Steve Weiz is also very good in the comic part of Monsignor O’Hara.

Set designer Glenn Pepe’s one-dimensional set is a little unsatisfying, but it comes alive later in the show when large stained-glass windows are brought in. In one number, the city of Philadelphia is created using merely points of light; it’s quite impressive. Joe Moncada’s gauche 1970s period costumes and wigs are just right.

“Sister Act” is playing through March 31 at ALT, 224 San Pasquale NW, in Old Town. Go to albuquerquelittletheatre.org or call 242-4750 to make reservations.

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